Frankie Ruiz The Final Concert Performance

by Stefan Vale

It seemed like over two hours had passed, as we waited in that
long line of people (that wouldn't advance forward), outside of
Cafe Casablanca nightclub in Hallandale Florida - everyone
anxious to get inside to see our favorite salsero, El Papa de la
Salsa, Frankie Ruiz. Although I'd seen him perform many Emes in
the past, for some unknown reason, this Eme just seemed more
important, like I simply had to be there to witness his triumphant
return to the stage. To dispel all of the rumors that he was done
for and all of his years of debauchery had finally caught up to him,
bringing to a biIer end a decades long illustrious music career, lost to the evil hands of drug and alcohol
addicEon. As the Eme conEnued to pass by and the line grew even longer, a sense of desperaEon
eventually began to set in, as people all dressed up in their finest clothes, dripping of sweat and pungent
perfume, began to nervously speculate whether this would be the night when we would witness the end
of a musical era. For to many of us, Frankie Ruiz was more than just a Salsa singer, he was the brash and
resolute voice of a generaEon of Caribe-LaEno people, brazenly proud and intensely passionate, with a
pride that resonated in the electrifying music, sultry dance and style of the Emes. But unfortunately on
this night, that feeling of pride would not be resurrected, for the illness that had plagued the man who
commanded this spirit, would prevail and force him to cancel the show. "Frankie Ruiz has canceled”,
shouted a man from the nightclub (in Spanish) as he walked down the long row of people standing
outside. Somehow we all knew it, for it had been reported in the news that Frankie was suffering from
advanced liver disease. A potenEally terminal condiEon, but in the world of Salsa music, on stage he
commanded an aura of invincibility. Disappointedly, the crowd of people began to disburse and my date
and I went back to my car to make alternaEve plans for the evening, but we played Frankie Ruiz music in
the car all the way back home.
During the height of Frankie Ruiz's music career he had enjoyed great commercial success. Coming from
very humble beginnings, growing up in suburban New Jersey and Puerto Rico, his musical journey began
as an aspiring Embale player and then developed into becoming a singer for such legendary bands as
Orquesta La Solucion and the Tommy Olivencia orchestra. He then embarked on a solo career and rose to
the top of the LaEn music charts with the release of several successful albums and worldwide tours, but
he also endured several personal tragedies with the death of close family members and a 3 year long
incarceraEon for an altercaEon that he had while intoxicated on an airplane. Drug and alcohol addicEon
would plague him for several years, before he would finally change to a life of sobriety and religion.
And now with the news of his concert cancellaEon, I seriously doubted that I'd ever see him perform live
again, without a miracle. Then a few weeks later, that serendipitous miracle came true, when someone
handed me a promoEonal flyer announcing that Frankie Ruiz had rescheduled his show to a different
venue, and this Eme he'd be performing at Cristal nightclub on South Beach (Miami Florida).
Feeling that something truly historic was going to happen on this evening, I showed up early to the
nightclub with my date and we were happy to be immediately allowed inside, giving me ample Eme to
scope out the perfect spot on the dance floor, facing the stage to get a good vantage point. As the
nightclub began to fill up, we waited anxiously as minutes began to turn into hours and the show that
was scheduled to begin at 9pm was delayed without any official word from the nightclub management
staff. Once again, people began to speculate whether Frankie Ruiz would cancel the show again, or even
worse, we would receive word of his passing. A[er about three hours of delay, there appeared to be a
glimmer of hope, as several music technicians began to set up some sound equipment on the stage.
Then another hour passed by and the crowd began to grow even bigger, with space on the dance floor
shrinking to barely enough room to move from one spot.

Then suddenly several band members quickly took the stage to begin
warming up, the lights dimmed and excitement filled the air as the band
began to play an electrifying interlude. Spotlights illuminated the stage and
the announcer introduced Frankie Ruiz, as everyone began looking around
for him. A[er a long pause, no one came out and the crowd went completely
silent. Once again, the announcer introduced him, this Eme with even more
excitement in his voice, to hype up the crowd. The audience applauded
hesitantly and then, in the distance, there appeared the shadowy image of a
small-statured figure of a man, coming closer from the right side of the
stage. It was Frankie Ruiz himself, in the flesh. NoEceably skinnier than I'd
ever seen him before, but with an aura of invincibility and a gleaming bright
smile on his face, perched slightly upward, in his signature style. As he began
to sing his song with passion, the pianist clanked away on the keys, the
percussionists pounded away on the skins, the horn secEon wailed, the
bassist thumped, and the crowd just came alive with excitement. The
nightclub was now packed to capacity and beaming with energy.

A[er the song was over, he expressed his hear]elt appreciaEon to his fans for their conEnued support and
aIributed his physical resurrecEon to his faith in God, so deeply grateful to have been given a second
chance to perform again and be "born again". He would conEnue to perform only a few of his signature
songs, before ending off his set with one of his most famous songs, a tribute to his homeland, Puerto Rico.
Singing with precise enunciaEon and with an emoEonal intensity that I had never seen in him before, he
conEnuously looked upwards poinEng towards the ceiling, thanking God for the blessings of good health
and for finding redempEon. This created a surreal spiritual energy vibe that seemed to fill the room and
capEvate the audience in a pensive trance.
The show ended quite climaEcally with him repeaEng the final lyrics to the song: "Te lo dije Willie, te lo
dije... Hay Frankie Ruiz pa' largo... Okay"! (TranslaEon: "I told you Willie, I told you. There will be Frankie
Ruiz for a long Eme... Okay"!). A[er the set was over, Frankie and his band le[ the stage. The house lights
came back on. There would be no encore. The crowd quietly disbursed, but that strangely surreal spiritual
vibe seemed to linger on and conEnued to resonate in me for several days a[erwards.
I felt personally privileged to have been there to witness this historic event. Not too long a[er that show, I
would learn that Frankie Ruiz had finally seconded to his baIle with liver disease and he had passed away
in a hospital in New Jersey. Funerals services were held there, with addiEonal services also being observed
in New York City and Puerto Rico. A local Miami radio staEon organized a benefit event to help raise money
for his family. Ironically, it was held at Cafe Casablanca nightclub (in Hallandale Florida), the same place
where he had cancelled his show. I aIended the event and there I saw his teenaged son, Frankie Ruiz Jr.,
a quiet young man with an unmistakable resemblance to his father. A few years later, I would run into that
same young man again (and his mother) at another Salsa event, where we were formally introduced. He
told me that he was just starEng his own music career and wanted to follow in the footsteps of his
legendary father. I told him that I had witnessed his father’s final concert performance and I wished him
much success.
Then a few years later, I would learn that indeed Frankie Ruiz’s dream of being "born again" had finally
been realized, in the form of his son's music career taking off on its own. Under the nickname "El hijo de la
Salsa” (translaEon: the son of the Salsa), Junior has performed with his own Salsa band at some of the same
venues that his father had once played, and he conEnues to sing many of his father’s signature songs to
carry on his legacy. One of the most commercially successful and celebrated InternaEonal Salsa singers of
all Eme, Frankie Ruiz's impact on the world of LaEn music has been felt worldwide, and it has contributed
greatly to its popularity and longevity. And best of all, he even le[ behind a successor to fulfill his promise
to us when he once vehemently proclaimed: "Hay Frankie Ruiz pa' largo... Okay"!
Stefan Vale is an accomplished World music recording arEst, author of the book “Salsa Dancer” and recipient of the honorary 2006 Miami Salsa Congress Award.